Elijah and Elisha

January 04, 2014Filed under theology#devotionsMarkdown source

I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: 2 Kings 2–5, Psalm 4, Proverbs 4.

One cannot help but notice, reading through 1 and 2 Kings, how much Elijah and Elisha echo Moses and foreshadow the Messiah. They perform miracles that show up the limitations of other so-called deities, part the Jordan, make clean what was impure, give miraculous children, raise the dead, multiply food for a meal for the hungry.1 These men were prophets like Moses, but Israel knew that they were not the prophet like Moses that the first savior of Israel had promised.

Reading through these books, it is interesting that Israel was eagerly awaiting another prophet like Elijah when Jesus came. Indeed, it is interesting that a later prophet would speak of Elijah coming again. Reading through this material —which was originally all a single book covering all of 1 Samuel through 2 Kings—one would not necessarily be inclined to call Elijah the greater of the pair. Indeed, Elisha both asked for and apparently received a double portion of the miraculous gift that Yahweh had given to Elijah. The text records far more miracles performed by Elisha than by Elijah. (Indeed, most of that list above belongs to Elisha and not to Elijah.)

Clearly, though, there was something special about Elijah.

I think it was his passion for the name of Yahweh, and I think the text makes this abundantly clear. It is not that Elisha was not passionate for the glory of Yahweh; it is that this is the main (and nearly the only) thing in view in Elijah’s ministry. Elijah’s responsibility was to point the people to repentance for their sins and to show up false religion for what it was. This he did. He stood for the name of Yahweh under the threat of death and all alone. Other faithful Yahweh-worshippers though there were in Israel at the time, it was Elijah alone on the mountain confronting the four hundred priests of Baal, and he alone who saw the mighty hand of Yahweh raised in triumph against Baalism. He, like John the Baptizer, was the lone voice in the wilderness, calling the people of Israel back to God.

Elisha’s role was different: he was the man of miracles and the fierce judge. He did the greatest miracles recorded in the Bible prior to the coming of the Messiah; only in Jesus himself was there a greater provider, healer, or resurrector. He pointed to the greatness of Yahweh through these miracles; unlike Elijah, he did so in a time when many others worshipped Yahweh. He stood on Elijah’s shoulders, as it were.

I have often pondered over the last year or so that often it is the case that younger leaders can seem (and perhaps are) more effective than their elders— but that even when this is so, there is a foundation present because of the elders that is too easily overlooked. Many young men’s pastoral ministries are successful not only because of their own faithfulness, but because of the work of the pastors who preceded them. Many young men can be more doctrinally sound than or more effective preachers than their predecessors because of their predecessors. Elisha did his miracles in a land that had already seen Baalism humbled under fire from Yahweh. I do my writing, ministry (such as it is), and even thinking in the context set for me by faithful Christians who have gone before, women and men who have diligently sought Christ and laid a foundation on which I might build.

  1. To say nothing of cursing mockers to be attacked by bears, in one of the stranger passages in the old Testament.